A grievance committee has recommended the Smith County treasurer receive a 10% raise, higher than what officials have proposed but lower than what she requested.
The grievance committee recommended 6-3 to raise Treasurer Kelli White’s pay from $70,366 to $77,402.60 after about an hour and a half of hearing arguments for and against a raise.
The grievance committee was made up of seven women and two men who have served on grand juries in the past year. County Judge Nathaniel Moran presided over the meeting as the committee chairman.
Three members of the Commissioners Court —JoAnn Hampton, Terry Phillips and Jeff Warr —attended the hearing as audience members. Moran said the lack of a unanimous decision by the committee will constitute a recommendation to the Commissioners Court, as opposed to a mandate.
White is a four-term county treasurer whose job involves accounting functions, reconciliation of deposits and investment of public funds. She filed a grievance after three consecutive years of requesting raises and receiving less than she had asked for.
In fiscal year 2019, White received a 5% raise, which brought her base salary to $70,366. Moran proposed in June that she receive a $3,500 pay raise for fiscal year 2020, and in July increased that recommendation to $5,000.
In the formal grievance, White proposed a raise to $93,000 and asked for the committee to make a recommendation unanimously. She said this would be her only shot at a pay raise, because after the grievance committee, most officials don’t get further raises.
The number was based on the average pay for the treasurer’s job in five similar counties, as reported by the Texas Association of Counties. The counties are Webb ($108,839), Jefferson ($102,203), McLennan ($94,581), Brazos ($83,238), and Hays ($79,509).
White outlined her stance in an opening statement and described her duties. She said the office has a full-time deputy and a part-time employee who collectively process from 100 to 200 receipts per day and manage 60 bank accounts, among other things.
In a rebuttal presentation to the committee, Moran said White was proposing a $23,000 raise over fiscal year 2018, and he did not know how to justify it. He said two dozen other elected officials would file grievances if the committee approved that number.
“She is proposing a 31.42 percent increase in her salary,” Moran said. “I just don’t think that— I can’t do that and look all the other employees in Smith County in the face and say I gave y’all a 1.5 percent raise and I gave her (31 percent).”
Moran outlined his position as the county’s chief budget officer, and said decisions need to be based on policy and qualifications necessary for a position. He also outlined about a dozen other factors, such as the private market, budget constraints and number of people managed.
Moran also defended his decision to hire budget analyst Paul Feltes at $75,000 a year and fleet manager Brian Reynolds at $82,000 per year. He said those numbers take into account what those positions would make in the private sector.
“Kelli, I know, is upset about the fact that those individuals are making more,” Moran said. “When we talk to fleet managers across the country … we know what the private market demands to pay that we get them in the county. We need a good fleet manager. Same with a budget analyst.”
For example, Moran said the treasurer position does not require special credentials such as being a certified public accountant. He said being a lawyer is not required to be the county judge, even though he is a lawyer.
“If we’re looking at comparable pay for what a treasurer does here and what they can do, we’ll talk about a bookkeeper in a business, and here in Smith County the mean salary based on a 2017 study by the (Tyler Economic Development Council) did not exceed $40,000,” Moran said.
“So there are a lot of positions, but when you look at that and their options to go somewhere else, those individuals, those elected officials could leave the county and make a whole lot more in civilian land,” he said. “The treasurer likely would not have that option. She likely would have to take a much bigger pay cut to go into the civilian world.
“By comparison, I’ll just tell you my position in particular,” he said. “I took a significant pay cut. I could leave the county judge spot and go back to practice law and make a whole lot more money than I am as the county judge. But that is not true for all elected officials. That’s something you have to consider.”
One committee member asked Moran how salaries are determined given the number of subordinates.
“She has only one employee so obviously she’s doing a lot of the work … these other offices have more employees so they’re in more of a supervisory role,” the committee member said.
“It’s based on workload,” Moran replied. “If they want to add an employee, they come and they present that case to myself and the auditor and the Commissioners Court.”
He said the current workload in the treasurer’s office is appropriate.
Another member asked about White’s argument that her workload increased when the county changed its process for renting out the R.B. Hubbard Center, known as “The Hub,” for public events.
“We’ve been doing that for a number of years now,” Moran said. He added: “It really is not an increased workload and last year we actually made some changes to make it easier on her and on that process.”
The committee first voted 6-3 to recommend a pay raise above Moran’s original recommendation and then 6-3 to raise White’s pay to $77,402.60.
White said after the hearing that unanimous decisions are very rare, but she is glad she got to speak her peace. She said other elected officials have gone through the grievance process several times before reaching unanimity.
“My predecessor taught me to be a public servant and not a politician, so coming and asking for money is not a joy and I don’t like to do what they call politick,” White said.
“The treasurer should be neutral and be a public servant, so that’s why most people don’t know why the treasurers are elected, because we do stay behind the sidelines and do our work,” she said.
District Clerk Penny Clarkston commended White after the hearing.
“I think the decision that was made was fair based on what her duties are and her tenure in her position, and I would like to let it be known that, yes, as an elected position and what she does she’s on call 24/7 as we all are,” Clarkston said.
“But the main thing is you get an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay out of this person in this position, and you don’t always have that in long-term employees with the county,” she added.
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